"You're concerned about the boy."
It was the first she'd spoken since they'd entered Depa's room. Mace felt as restful here as in his own chamber, absorbing the peace of her few furnishings, the spare paintings she used to adorn her walls. They often came here together for shared meditation, not needing speech to express the simple comfort of one another's presence as they communed with the Force.
Speech was separation. But sometimes, he mused, speech was necessary, even for two souls as attuned as their own. "Yes."
"Attachment isn't innately harmful." Her back was to him, filling her pot and igniting her small burner. Depa swore the tea knew if the water had been heated by a real fire. "He loves his mother. There are worse things."
He considered her words as the water warmed over the flame. She wouldn't have said anything if she didn't intend to finish the discussion. "One of the first lessons we learn is the danger of attachment. A Jedi has great power. We must use that with balance among all, not focus on one person."
Depa turned, looking over her shoulder at him, one braid bent against her face as a pretty frame. "Yet our traditional training program involves creating an intense bond with one person. Should Master Qui-Gon take him on as apprentice despite the Council's wishes, Anakin will form close ties with him."
"Family is different."
"I know." Her own sister lived elsewhere in this same building. Mace had rescued them as children, brought the Force-sensitive girls here, and taken on one as his own Padawan when the time was right. He had known this woman since she was a squalling infant, had watched every step of her growth since that day. She chided him not for his concern over young Skywalker, but for his refusal to admit the two of them shared a bond as close as any parent and child could, even closer than her love for her sibling.
The water bubbled in the pot, singing out with steam. Depa crushed the dried tea leaves using both hands. Mace had tried this same technique dozens of times. It never tasted the same. She poured the water over the leaves, allowing them to steep.
"Skywalker has more power than I've ever seen," Mace said. "I've met hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jedi. I can feel the Force moving through each soul I've encountered. This is something else. You must have sensed it, too."
She nodded. "I'm not frightened of power."
"It's not fear," he said, perhaps too swiftly for the sudden sharp look in her eyes. "Destiny is written large on him. Qui-Gon is correct. He is destined to do great things. I can't be sure those are going to be good things."
"We aren't subject to good. We are subject to the Force. You have said countless times we must submit ourselves to what the Force chooses. We fight in tune with the Force, allowing it to flow through us, to make us its instrument. We are one with the Force."
"Unless we use our powers for our own ends. Attachment and desire lead to fear of loss. Fear is a step into darkness." Master Yoda had just reinforced this teaching. Mace knew it inside his bones. "Fear perverts the needs of the Force."
Depa poured the tea. Hot steam filled the room with fragrance. "Would you stand in the way of the Force if it meant my life?"
Mace wrapped his hands around the teacup. Heat moved into his skin, prickling down his arms. "I would like to think I would accept the will of the Force." He met her eyes. He knew she read the truth in his gaze.
"I think you would try." She passed her hands over the cup, absorbing the good, moist heat into her own bones. Even as a child, he'd encouraged her to learn of Chalactan culture, to pursue her own history. Too many of their fellows knew nothing of their own homeworlds, of their past. Mace had returned to Haruun Kal when he was yet a young man, and he'd come home with understanding. Depa had immersed herself in Chalactan lore, from the grandest teachings of wisdom to the minute intricacy of tea. They were Jedi of their peoples, and they had become better Jedi for those lessons.
Of the people they were now, here within the walls of the Temple, Mace loved this woman as the daughter he would never sire. Depa loved him as father and brother both. When the hammer fell, each would stand in the way of the blow for the other. There was no other possible choice.
"Skywalker has a destiny," she said after a long drink of her tea. "The only question before us is if we help shape that destiny, or if we allow it to shape us."
"You think we should allow Qui-Gon to train him."
"I think he will be trained regardless of what you or I would hope. I think he may be guided into making good choices as he grows. There is no telling what he might do without that guidance."
Mace drank his tea. The flavor always reminded him of sweet fruits, with an undertone of woodsmoke. Their lives held few pleasures which could be enjoyed without encumbrance. Taking tea with his former Padawan and current best friend was one of the pleasures he treasured.
"I will consider your concerns." But as her eyes met his over the rim of the cup, they both knew she'd won.
Depa floated in suspension, bacta catching her hair in a false breeze. Mace had seen her with her hair unbound before. She'd been a small child with loose curls back when she'd been one of dozens of Younglings scampering about the Temple, the one who'd always stopped and met his eyes as they passed. She'd learned her intricate braids as she'd grown, taking on the trappings of a Chalactan mage while she'd immersed herself in the teachings of her home planet. In battle, he'd seen her hair cascade to her shoulders, as free as her shining blade.
His soul ached to see her hair drifting now.
Haruun Kal had nearly killed her. She'd gone seeking help for the Republic, had almost been ensnared by the Dark Side, would have died had it not been for Mace's intervention and that of a man named Nick Rostu. General Grievous would have taken the system, and claimed her soul at the same time.
Mace touched the transparisteel frame of the bacta bath. She'd been comatose since her return, mentally anguished by the loss of her troops and bodily injured by the attack. The medical droids said it would be a mercy to leave her floating here indefinitely, unaware. They also said it might help her to hear the voices of friends.
"I brought tea." His own voice sounded strange in here amidst the dull beeps and unwholesome bubbling of the tank. "It's your favorite."
Of course there was no reply.
Mace set up the tea things, the burner and the pot, the leaves he could never crush as she did. He sat cross-legged on the cold floor with great effort. His own injuries from Haruun Kal were not fully healed, leaving stiffness and sorrow as the flesh slowly mended. He allowed the water to heat as he watched Depa's form. They'd dressed her in the bare minimum to allow the bacta plenty of skin to treat. A band covered her breasts. Small pants covered her bottom. In another world, in another time, were they different people who had not lived these lives, he would note that her body was very attractive, and it held a mind to which he'd never found an equal. Today, now, living this life, he could only view her as his wounded child, captured in a wet cocoon from which she might never emerge.
A cough cleared his throat. He spoke to her of the war. They'd made some inroads. They'd lost some battles. Skywalker was performing well in the field, which she'd be pleased to hear.
"Your friend Nick is feeling much better. I think he'll join the GAR as soon as he's back on his feet."
Depa floated in silence, not amused by Mace's stories, not taking pride in the souls she'd tried to guide onto better paths.
The water boiled. Mace poured hot water over the leaves, and he waited. Patience led to wisdom, and to good tea. "No one blames you. I thought you should know. The rout on Haruun Kal couldn't have been predicted by anyone. You did the best you could, the best anyone could have. I know what you faced there. You withstood the kind of temptation that destroys Jedi, and you stepped back. I'm sorry you couldn't save your troops. They were good men. You always spoke highly of them." Only a handful had survived. Of those, few would ever fight again.
He was out of words. He cast his gaze to the tea, watching the color fill the pot, feeling the steam fill the small space. The scent might call her back from whatever star she orbited, promising sweetness. He could hope.
"If you wake now, I'll pour you a cup."
Depa's eyes stayed shut, and he knew she would not wake today.
"All right." He poured one cup for himself. It wasn't as good as when she made it. No wonder she stayed asleep. "I'll be here when you wake up."
Her braids were gone. Mace didn't pry. Depa was alive, and that must be enough for them both. She still bore her gems. Her eyes still sparkled. If she never spoke of what had happened on Haruun Kal, then neither did Mace. It was the past. Today his dearest friend was alive, and she had passed all her tests to regain her confidence in her own abilities.
"Join me for tea, Master Windu?" she asked, after the Council had broken session for the day.
He would not let her see the pain in his heart. Before, she wouldn't have needed to ask. "I would be honored, Master Billaba."
Their feet knew the way to her quarters. He paused at the doorstep. Walking inside implied a return to the way things had been. Nothing could be the same. Depa had walked through darkness, and Mace had made his own path through to pull her free.
She sensed his hesitation, and turned to watch him. Her eyes had seen pain, but they said she was the same girl he'd raised, and the same woman he knew. Mace followed her inside and closed the door.
Depa poured water into the pot and lit the fire. "I'm taking on a Padawan."
Mace watched her crush the dried tea leaves. She hadn't received a shipment of tea since before her mission. This would be old. He already tasted the dusty smoke on his tongue. "Caleb."
She nodded. "We fit together. I'm not sure why."
"He asks too many questions. He's very young." Mace counted off reasons on his fingers. "You're not fully recovered from your injuries."
"And you have decided none of those reasons matter."
He could picture the boy, one of several Younglings who traveled in a group. The older Mace was, the younger and more anonymous the children grew. To Master Yoda, they must all be a sea of indistinguishable faces, must have been so since Mace himself had been an infant.
Mace's Padawan had finally chosen an apprentice. She had accepted the last stage of her own growth as a Jedi. He remembered the day he had bent down to the small girl, just in the first flush of womanhood, and asked her to train with him. He remembered her blush, and her smile, and the sense that this was the place the Force had always meant them to be. He remembered bowing to her, and her bowing to him solemnly. Her first lessons from him in the use of her lightsaber. Her first night spent in meditation. Every moment they'd spent together flashed through his mind in one bright instant.
"It's a fine match for you both."
Depa lowered her head. "I think so."
The water boiled. She removed the pot from the flame and covered the leaves with hot water to steep.
"If you need help...."
"I will ask. Thank you."
She wore her wounds like a robe, scars he could see no matter how her body had healed. But her shoulders seemed lighter today, less pained, and her eyes were clear. The mere thought of training an apprentice had relieved much of the ache in her skin. Time and the bubbling curiosity of a child would cure her of the rest.
He would tell her that he was glad, would tell her he was proud of her. Instead, Mace watched her as she poured the tea, and they both knew no words were needed.